Bonding bill sets up three-way talks
ST. PAUL -- One of the 2012 Minnesota Legislature's prime tasks is to approve public facility repair and construction funds, but the three proposals vary widely as lawmakers look to wrap up their work for the year.
The final of the three public works funding plans, from Senate Republicans, overwhelmingly earned its initial committee passage Wednesday. It would spend $496 million, between House Republicans' $280 million and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's $756 million.
The public works bills, funded by the state selling bonds, are more complex than raw numbers show.
For instance, the three sides deal differently with how to renovate the state Capitol building: The Senate would pay $25 million to fix the Capitol's exterior; the House is looking at a $221 million bill separate from its main bonding proposal for an extensive repair job; and Dayton supports a $241 million project but included none of that in his bonding proposal.
Senators probably will vote on their measure Friday, and the House also could vote this week, with some lawmakers hoping to adjourn for the year by the end of next week.
Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, also public works financing chairman, repeatedly resisted efforts Wednesday to significantly change his bill, indicating several times that the bonding bill "is a very tender, gentle" process, and any change could affect its support.
Republicans who control the House and Senate generally want smaller bonding bills, leaving Senjem and House bonding Chairman Larry Howes, R-Walker, walking a tightrope to get support from both parties.
Several Democrats on Senjem's committee complained his bill spends too little. Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, hoped and predicted spending would grow by the time the bill reaches Democrat Dayton's desk.
Senjem rejected that idea. When added to last year's bonding bill, this one would mean the state would spend $1 billion in the two-year legislative session. He said that is the most the GOP can stomach.
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, worried about the vast differences with the House plan.
"There obviously are significant differences," Senjem said. "It is going to be an effort."
Senators of both parties encouraged Senjem to increase spending in several areas.
Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, said $20 million for local bridge replacement and $14.5 million for local road work is too little.
"I would like to see more money in there," he said.
Senjem responded: "There is an awful lot of competition for money in this bill."
Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, did not like the lack of funding for northern Minnesota projects: "People can't accuse this bill of money flowing north."
Kent Lokkesmoe of the Department of Natural Resources said he is concerned the Senate bill includes no money for dam repair and removal. Dayton's plan would spend $7 million, while the House bill lists $3 million.
Byllesby Dam on the border of Dakota and Goodhue counties and upstream of Cannon Falls needs to be fixed, Lokkesmoe said, to prevent a breach.
Langseth ran for one last term in the Senate to pursue funding for flood-control projects along the Red River and elsewhere in the state. The Senate bill would provide $30 million out of $40 million the Department of Natural Resources says is needed, a figure Langseth said he can live with.
The House bill includes $4.4 million in flood money and Dayton suggests $20 million.
There are differences like that throughout the three proposals.
For instance, Dayton wants $78 million for University of Minnesota repairs and construction while the House and Senate each set the amount at $39 million. For Minnesota State Colleges and Universities campuses, however, the Senate suggests spending $127 million, Dayton $112 million and the House $56 million.
University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler said the school wants $170 million.
"I am deeply concerned that the Legislature's poor funding for the University of Minnesota will have grave impacts on our students and the university's contributions to the state," Kaler said. "The House and Senate funding levels are woefully inadequate to meet critical needs. They harm our ability to modernize our aging infrastructure and reduce our cost of operations."
Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.